Platte County officials announced Monday that Grayden Lane Denham has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder, accused of shooting to death his grandparents, his older sister and 3-month-old nephew and then methodically setting their bodies on fire outside a home near Edgerton.
For weeks, Denham, 24, was identified as the primary person of interest in the Feb. 19 deaths of his grandparents Russell Denham, 82, and Shirley Denham, 81; his sister Heather Ager, 32; and her son, Mason Schiavoni. All were found outside of a home near Edgerton.
A grand jury on Friday indicted Denham in the deaths and also charged him with animal abuse for allegedly shooting the family dog; arson for allegedly setting fire to the home at 4170 Buena Vista Road in rural Platte County; and tampering with physical evidence by allegedly destroying the bodies of the victims and the residence.
He remains in custody in the Platte County Detention Center with bond set at $4 million.
Denham’s attorney, John P. O’Connor, said his client plans to plead not guilty to the criminal charges. O’Connor declined to comment further.
Denham had already been charged with theft for allegedly taking his grandparents’ car without permission and driving it about 1,200 miles to Seligman, Ariz., where police arrested him as he walked around naked.
Authorities found Russell Denham’s body east of the house near a small shed. The bodies of Shirley Denham, Ager and Mason were found in front of the house.
Each of the bodies, including the dog’s, was burning when firefighters arrived, Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen said at a news conference to announce the charges Monday. They had to put out the flames on the bodies, he said.
Details of what led to the shooting and fire have not been released because the case was presented to a grand jury, Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said. His office will determine later whether to seek the death penalty.
“A quadruple homicide is a very serious crime, and if we had the opportunity to allow 12 independent grand jurors to review that case, assist us in the investigation and ultimately determine what charges if any can be brought, in a very serious case we want to take that opportunity,” Zahnd said. “We had that opportunity in this case, and that’s what we decided in this case.
Ager died from gunshot and shotgun wounds to her head, according to a copy of a death certificate obtained by Shelly Denham, mother of Ager and Grayden Denham. The grandparents and Mason were also shot in the head before their bodies were set on fire, Shelly Denham said. Mason was in his mother’s arms, she has said.
Shelly Denham said she was in a meeting with the prosecutor’s victims advocate Monday when Zahnd, an investigator and several of his assistant prosecutors walked into the room.
Zahnd told her, “I have to give you some bad news.” He then explained that a grand jury indicted her son.
“The shock is the same as when my daughter died,” Shelly Denham said Monday afternoon. “I just listened and started crying.”
After the meeting, Shelly Denham met briefly with the sheriff’s office chaplain. She then visited her son in jail and did not speak about the criminal charges until he mentioned them. He pulled out the warrant given to him earlier Monday by sheriff’s deputies.
Grayden Denham occasionally lived at the home. He was not allowed to drive his grandparents’ vehicles because his Missouri driver’s license had been revoked for points violations and child support enforcement, according to authorities.
Arizona authorities had dismissed a misdemeanor theft charge against Denham involving a stolen license plate found on his grandparents’ car.
Shelly Denham has maintained that her son did not kill his relatives. Grayden Denham was very protective of his sister and would do nothing to harm her, she said.
“I was blindsided by this,” she said. “He’s innocent until proven guilty.”